The University of Plymouth has run a summer school for medical students whose studies have been interrupted by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Seven students from regions around the country, including Kharkiv, visited the University to gain hands-on experience in areas such as clinical and communication skills, ultrasound, anatomy and patient safety, using the state-of-the-art technology available on its campuses and at the Plymouth Science Park. 

They also visited University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHPNT) and the Nuffield Health Hospital in Plymouth.

Taking place over three weeks, the summer school also saw students visit local landmarks and attractions. Students around Ukraine have seen their education disrupted, with medical students particularly missing the continuity of study and lack of clinical experience, in addition to experiencing personal tragedy.

The summer school was the brainchild of Professor Hisham Khalil, Lead for Internationalisation in the University’s Peninsula Medical School and Consultant at UHPNT. The programme was designed to give students exposure to techniques that they may not have experienced since the war began. 

Professor Khalil said: “The summer school was Plymouth’s response to discussions taking place at a national level with the Medical Schools Council on how the UK could help medical students in Ukraine. We’re known in Plymouth for how well we prepare out graduates for practice as foundation doctors. We hope the summer school will help Ukrainian students in their journey to become excellent doctors.

“Even before the conflict, COVID-19 interrupted Ukrainian students’ study, so we’ve wanted to ensure that they get as much hands-on experience in the University’s state of the art learning environments as they can. Watching them working with our staff has been brilliant, they will be exceptional medical professionals.”

An additional 50 Ukrainian students have taken part in an online summer school, with features including healthcare systems, image interpretation, emergency medicine, presentations by the General Medical Council as well as some of the activities of the ‘in-person’ programme. 

Professor Khalil continued: “It’s been a real team effort to put a full programme together in a really short space of time, and I’m very grateful to colleagues around the institution for making this happen. We plan to stay connected with the students supporting their learning and journey to become doctors. And hopefully they will join one of the postgraduate University programmes in the future.”

One of the Ukrainian students, Mariia Pavlenko, from the Paltava region, said: “One of the best things about the summer school has been how much time we’ve spent ‘doing’ things, rather than just reading books. In Ukraine, our medical degree is six years long rather than five, but the first three years at least are all spent doing theory. It’s been great here to do theory and practice at the same time and interact with patients so early on. 

“I’m also really pleased to have developed my English skills, as they’ll be really useful in future.” 

Student Daria Kuzmina, from Kharkiv, added: “The biggest challenge at the moment of course is that we don’t know our future – we can’t say what our career aspirations are, because we simply don’t know what we’re going back to. As we study here, people are hiding underground being shelled and tortured, it’s just impossible to convey how horrific it is. 

“But while this uncertainty and horror continues, we do know that the war will one day end – and when it does, we want to be ready to help people. This summer school has definitely helped to prepare us for that.”